Jim Duffy: World leaders need to find Ronald Reagan's brain

Many of you will remember President Ronald Reagan. He was a Republican US President who served two terms in office in the White House. I must admit, my endearing memory of him was the ITV Spitting Image puppet. It was so life-like. Not only in how it looked, but how it sounded.

Ronald Reagan finds his brain in Spitting Image (Picture: Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock)
Ronald Reagan finds his brain in Spitting Image (Picture: Peter Brooker/REX/Shutterstock)

One would have sworn Reagan had flown over and provided the actual voice-over. The rubber Reagan was on every Sunday night as the puppeteers ran a series of skits called “The President’s Brain is missing”. It was their way of saying that, in their opinion, Reagan was thick. But, he was far from it.

During the Reagan era, arms control and inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) proliferation was the number one global issue that had the capacity to blow up in our faces at any time. The Cold War, a period that many of us grew up in, had us all very aware of how many nuclear weapons there were on each side and indeed how ready they were to deploy them if needed. ‘Deploy’ meaning blow us all to kingdom come and ruin Mother Earth for centuries. Hence the seriousness of it all. But, Reagan upped the stakes and showed that his intellect and political acuity were far removed from his Spitting Image caricature.

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He was the president – or mastermind – behind the Star Wars programme. Essentially, the USA would build a satellite-based missile defence system that would zap any Soviet (Russian) ICBM’s heading over to the USA. The Star Wars system would, when completed, provide the USA with the bragging rights over the Soviets, in terms of technology and protection. It would keep hard-working Americans safe in their beds at nights, knowing that if that nasty Mr Gorbachev decided to press the button, their missile defences would take care of it and all would be well.

Reagan ramped up the pressure on Russia and its relatively new leader. Mikhail Gorbachev turned out to be the eighth and last leader of the old Soviet Union.

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At this time, Vladimir Putin was just a bit-part player in the Cold War as a KGB agent. But, there is no doubt he was watching what Gorbachev was doing and what Reagan was up to. He could not fail to notice as Reagan and wife Nancy were actors prior to entering politics and used this to their distinct advantage. Reagan was masterful at using public relations to boost his presence and communicate his message. He loved nothing more than a good old presidential TV broadcast from the White House to his “Fellow Americans”. And he was good at it. He spoke live but rehearsed and did not stumble over his words on the autocue. And the Soviets were watching.

Reagan managed to do a number of things that helped world peace and made us all feel a bit safer. He visited Gorbachev in Moscow, creating a positive and healthy relationship with the Russian premiere. He had several rounds of talks and tough negotiations that pushed Gorbachev into many tough corners that he then, in turn, had to sell in the Polit Bureau and the Kremlin hardliners. And he also brought the Gorbachevs to Washington DC on a state visit. But, what was pure genius was his decision to speak directly to the Russian people in his New Year broadcasts, and he even attempted some pigeon Russian. It went down a storm.

Pulling both the USA and the USSR back from the brink of escalating stockpiles of nuclear weapons, Reagan and his administration secured his place in history on two fronts. Firstly, he created a bipartite agreement between both Super Powers that led in turn to many more deals in the coming years. But, more importantly, he opened up a human-centred dialogue with his counterpart in Russia that created trust between them both. Something that seems to be sadly lacking in 2018.

Does the time maketh the man or woman? I wonder if Reagan had been in the White House now instead of Donald Trump and Gorbachev had been in the Kremlin and not Putin, would there be more dialogue and trust? Or have things gotten so bad on the communications front that there is so much mistrust between both countries now?

We, as mere mortals, have to get our news from the media to find out what is happening. As Russia demonstrates that it is happy to build bigger and better missiles, while generally acting as a bully boy, do we retort with tit-for-tat measures or do we do what Reagan did and ramp up the stakes even further? I’m not sure America ever had the capability to build its Star Wars programme. But, “bullshit baffles brains” as they say, and the Russians obviously felt threatened by what the USA could achieve – if pushed.

Is it not time for the USA and ‘Little Britain’ to out-manoeuvre Putin, who by the way has a great deal to lose personally? It is estimated that comrade Putin is worth multi-millions, which I am sure he would want to enjoy in his retirement. Negotiating with bully boys never works. Standing up to them with an even bigger threat makes them think. Will there ever be a Trump-Putin handshake on the lawns outside the Oval Office? I’m not so sure. Will they ever be seen signing a treaty to rid us all of chemical and nuclear weapons? I’m not so sure. But, that says more about these little men and their egos and less about the state of politics today.

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev made a difference in this world. Perhaps one day, their actions will be looked at and repeated. We are definitely in need of it.